Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Learning to milk a goat
Fighting with a goat or hitting a goat is a bad idea. They are very smart and never forget. You want them to associate the milk stand with happy times and positive images, so that they will be beating down the door to get into the milking parlor -- really. A goat that raises her own kids and misbehaves on the milk stand is simply expressing very strong mothering instincts. She feels that the milk is for her babies, so she is trying to stop you from taking it from them just as she would butt away another kid that tried to nurse off her.
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so the real answer is to start training your goat to the milk stand months before you plan to milk her. So, if you just brought home your first kids this spring and won't be milking until next year, keep reading! Back in the day when I didn't have 18 milkers and keep five doelings every year, we would put every goat on the milk stand every single time they got grain. They never received grain anywhere else. One mistake some people make is to only put them on the milk stand when they are going to do something unpleasant like vaccinate or trim hooves. So the goats associate it with negative experiences and want nothing to do with it after freshening.
Now that I don't have the time put every dry doe on the milk stand every day, I start putting them on the milk stand as early as possible after freshening. The sooner, the better -- measured in hours, not days or weeks. If you can get them up there within 12 hours, you are usually good. Some people say that you should let the doe lick birth fluid off your hands and she'll let you milk her, but I don't buy that because the bottom line is that if you're milking them from day one when their hormones are raging, they think that you milking them is just as normal as their kids nursing. If their kids are the only ones getting the milk, then they think that the kids are the only ones that should be getting it. And all those people who talk about the birth fluid thing also bottle raise kids. If you are bottle raising kids, the does tend to be completely mellow about being milked because they don't know any other way.
If a doe is raising her own kids, you are not necessarily going for volume when you milk her, although I've had goats that would produce more than their kids could consume, and as long as you're milking them twice a day, you're getting milk. I had a la mancha that would give a quart a day while nursing two kids without ever being separated. And if a goat has only a single, you really need to either be milking twice a day without separating or separating overnight and milking every morning, or you'll have a very wimpy milk supply because she will only produce enough for that one kid.
So, what do you do with a doe at two months with kids nursing who doesn't want you to milk her? The first thing I do is just put her on the milk stand and let her eat, and I'll put my hand on her udder. She'll start to kick at my hand, but I won't move it. I'll just leave it there until she stops kicking. Do that for a few days, and then start milking a little bit. She'll probably get mad when you do that, but just stay calm and put your hand on her udder until she calms down again. You haven't separated the kids, and you're not going for real milk here. This is training. The whole time I'm talking to her in that voice that you use with a baby that is upset, telling her that everything is going to be okay and that I understand this is new to her. But as they say, it's the tone of voice that's important, so if you can talk soothingly while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or the weather forecast, go for it.
If you have brought home a doe in milk that was just taken away from her kids this morning, however, you don't have time for this type of training because you need to milk that goat tonight! If you are just learning to milk, it can be helpful to have someone hold one of the hind legs because most goats cannot kick over the bucket if they only have three legs on the milk stand. (I say "most" because it is not impossible.) If you have one that lays down, you can have your helper hold up her back end, or you can put something very large under her chest. If you don't have a helper, you can hobble a goat. Instructions for using hobbles are here. We've only ever done this once, and it was with a la mancha that my daughter had sworn to "never milk again" after the doe exploded on the milk stand and sent half a gallon of milk into the daughter's lap. I suggest, however, that you stop using these strong-arm tactics as soon as possible because they're time-consuming and stressful for both you and the goat.
I completely understand the frustration of learning to milk when you have an uncooperative goat -- and ten years ago, I gave up on my second goat and quit milking her after only a week. But it's been years since we've had a doe that took longer than 3-4 days to settle down and let us milk her. So, I'm not sure if we've become that good at training them, or if we just culled all the lines that were not good at raising their kids and letting us milk them. It's probably a combination of the two. My ultimate goal is that all of my does will run into the milking parlor and jump on the milk stand, and I will be able to milk them without even closing the head gate on the stanchion.
And even though I "complain" about my goats beating down the milking parlor door -- some of them jump on the door while waiting their turn -- and fighting to get in ahead of the other goats, I really would not have it any other way. It means they trust me and don't mind being milked. I talk about my goats as my partners in cheese making, and that's really the way I feel about it. They're sharing their milk with me because they want to, not because I'm bigger and stronger and am taking it by force.